Airmar 2018 part 2: Ultrasonic and EM speedo mysteries unraveled, plus new UDST800

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher since 4/12/2005, and now excited to have Ben Stein as a very able colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2018 and beyond.

38 Responses

  1. Henning says:

    I might want to retire my CS4500, in use since 2012 and still in working order, but first I would have to see some satisfied user reports. So I’ll be very interested how a UDST 800 works on Gizmo.
    My CS4500 has quite severe problems with silt in the water like you find in shallow waters with lots of tidal activity (such as the Waddenzee). In these areas, I regularly have crazy readings that swing, in sort of a sinusiodal curve, between about 0.5 knots and 9 knots while going at a steady 6 knots, confirmed by GPS. Each full curve is maybe 20 seconds long. A minute later, with maybe a little less silt in the water, all is back to normal until it starts again a few minutes later. This never happens in clearer water (e.g. not once in 2.000nm of Baltic sailing of last season).
    Another question I have is how fine you can calibrate it. An absolute must for me is ability to apply correction factors for multiple speed levels. In addition to that I would highly appreciate ability to apply different correction factors depending on roll of the boat (port bow or starboard bow). My boat or my install location definitely needs this – and it’s a standard boat and standard install location.
    In theory, the roll-dependent correction should be no problem as there is continuous supply of roll (and tilt) via NMEA 2000 from my H2183 compass.
    The last point, in my opinion, is critical for a sensor like this. It’s targeted at those that badly want precise speed. But the proposition “buy this sensor and you will have breathtakingly accurate speed” is, unfortunately, naive. You need to invest a lot of time in calibration, and, to be able to do that, you need software that allows very fine corrections in a number of different dimensions.
    Otherwise it’s just a sensor that never fouls – also good, of course.

  2. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Great Entry, especially the history, it has been a long journey of product announcements. The ability to measure leeway, N2K, and bluetooth access to the sensor being particularly appealing features.
    Over the years it has seemed like two different technologies were being developed by Airmar, the “EM” for example being different from how the CS4500 senses speed through water as described in a detailed product brochure.
    Ben, does the UDST800 and DX900+ have the same guts/technology? Are they the same or different from the CS4500? Can the UDST800 measure leeway and accessed from bluetooth?

  3. No, Dan, just the DX900+ can measure leeway speed/angle and also roll/pitch, as seen in AirmarCAST screens above. It’s also the only transducer with Bluetooth.

  4. Henning, according to the UDST/UST intall guide linked to above, speed calibration is possible, but it’s vague beyond that, dependent apparently on what display you’re using in conjunction. And of course some systems can apply calibration independent of the transducer (but then it only shows up within that system, not to other N2K displays).
    At any rate, this is definitely an interesting and still largely unknown aspect of these speedos. I did check Gizmo’s Maretron DSM to see if it could calibrate the UDST800 like it could the Maretron DST110 (equivalent to Airmar DST800). No dice, but maybe coming in Maretron update?
    Also, I don’t buy that every boat speedo install needs multipoint calibration. I saw good results with Maretron’s calibration, though it did need to be adjusted as paddlewheel got dirty.
    Plus we have not heard about real world results from Airmar’s latest ultrasonic tech. It may look a lot like what Kees saw in 2012 but I gather they’ve working on the Echo Correlation Processor:
    “The UST800/UST850’s echo correlation processor has patented adaptive digital signal processing that automatically adjusts according to boat speed, water depth and water clarity for most accurate speed readup. Reliable operation in both salt and fresh water.”

  5. Francisco says:

    Hi I have tried a DX900 plus plus in my carbon cruiser racer. I had great excitement for it, measuring leeway is a killer app. Unfortunately reality has not met expectations. Speed readings are all over the place. To check power supply issues, I disconnected all electronics and fed it directly from the batteries , reading speed via Bluetooth. Insert far from a marina to limit electromagnetic noise. It does not work I am sorry to report. Can be the carbon hull? Don’t know. Francisco

  6. Thanks for the report, Francisco. An Airmar representative tells me that he thinks “the culprit in this case is the carbon hull” and wonders if you have worked with Airmar tech support?

  7. Crystal Blues Digital says:

    Raymarine sold the CS4500 for a while as a transducer option. We bought one gladly, being fed up with cleaning the paddle wheel transducer. It was installed back in 2003 and is still working, though the temperature probe failed last year. And yes, it wasn’t initially reliable in muddy water, though it always did seem to adapt with time – the Rajand River in Borneo was our haunt for some years. The Raymarine guys tell me they had a bit of trouble with these, and that we’re a lucky boat. So be it. Now I’m hoping for a DX900 for Christmas.

  8. Francisco says:

    Ben. Developing a new electromagnetic sensor, aimed at the racing market, which is incompatible with carbon hulls, seems surprising. I will call airmar support in a few days when I have a bit of time. But the truth is that I have tried it In several conditions, making sure that the level of a electromagnetic noise was low. I was also quite careful to check that the unit was properly inserted in the sleeve. Unless I am proven wrong, I don’t think this product is up to standard for the general public. This may also explain why it was in the making for such a long time after the announcement. Regards

  9. Nick says:

    The Airmar situation over the last decade has been quite surprising, given we had very good and reliable sonic speed devices in 1997.

  10. Ian says:

    Interesting discussion on this subject on Sailing Anarchy:
    from about post #63.
    Maybe the UDST800 isn’t so hot and paddlewheels’ days aren’t over yet?

  11. Compass Marine says:

    What a coincidence that I see this article now. I just got off the phone with tech support regarding a customers failed CS4500 ultrasonic speed unit. It was not a very fulfilling call nor all that reassuring for me to continue installing these.
    What I learned.
    #1 There is no field test for the transducer to confirm whether it is the problem or not.
    #2 There is no repair of the transducer, if it is what failed.
    #3 Other than confirming 12V power at the control box there is no field test to confirm the control box is working.
    #4 There is also most likely no repair to the circuit board (they were not too committal in this) of the CS4500 control box.
    So, I can send it in $$ and they can possibly test it and tell me which part is bad, the transducer or control box, but then they could not confirm availability of parts for this unit. I even gave them the model revision number; 18-449-01 Rev.01
    I have already confirmed it is not the display with a test unit I keep around.
    These ultrasonic sensor kits are very expensive and this one failed for no apparent reason. It’s mounted dry, has remained bone dry, zero corrosion etc. and I have no way to test it nor to even get it repaired. hard to tell a customer whose vintage Data Marine stuff that lasted 31 years that his few year old very expensive Airmar ultrasonic speed unit is dead.
    Obviously I will need to replace it but with what? These new units are not yet proven. If I go to a new unit it will mean a new display too $$$$ as the new ultrasonic units apparently do not send an analog pulse like the CS4500 could..
    Frustrating to say the least.

  12. Always good to hear from you, RC, though what you describe is depressing. I’m hopeful that that “new” UDST/UST transducers and processing boxes are well developed at this point, but some aspects remain mysterious and only time will indicate their reliability.
    For instance, it’s still unclear to me what sort of calibration is possible, and what devices will be able to do it. The Maretron DST110 (sourced from Airmar) that I pulled to try out the UDST800 could be calibrated against SOG and even though it uses a paddlewheel I was able to get a good match between STW and SOG in zero current conditions, and hence fairly good Set/Drift calculations.
    Also I noticed that the Raymarine i70s appears to have multi-point speed calibration for smart speed sensors, as shown in this entry:

  13. I just updated the DX900+ section of this entry to reflect the fact that Jeremy Anwyl’s had been bottom painted, which definitely affects performance and is therefore prohibited in the installation instructions. He will be testing a fresh DX and also a UDST800 (which can be painted).

  14. Jonathan U says:

    Just sent a DX900+ to a client for a new BB&G H5000 install. And as we’ve done on every system for the past decade that requested a sonic sensor, suggested they install an analog paddlehweel prewired into the system for rapid swap if (“when” might be more accurate) the sonic unit fails. I’m optimistic for the DX but history indicates having a backup readily in place is a good move.

  15. Jeremy says:

    Not to add to any confusion, but the bottom paint I applied to the DX900+ is water based and was allowed. (At least according to the owner’s guide I have.) I think Airmar may be updating the manual to state that no bottom paint of any kind should be used, but not sure about this.
    As for the UDST800, I tried one this morning and in brief sea trials can say it looks very encouraging.

  16. LarryR says:

    Hi All, We have two DX900+ units on our 60′ cat and we will be testing them against the ST200’s also installed over the next two regattas in the Caribbean in the next 3 weeks. Any tips you can give me about what to look for. My plan is to use the ST200s into our H5000 to start with and log the data from N2K into Expedition at the same time and compare. I have not calibrated the 900s as yet, in case you have any tips.
    Larry Rosenfeld

  17. peter says:

    Ben, do you know if UDST is (like DX900) dual-axis speed-to-water system or not. European dealer is not able to confirm this.

  18. Sorry but that’s a no, Peter. The UDST outputs the standard set of Depth, Speed through Water, and water Temperature values. By contrast, the DX900 also measures transverse speed, calculates leeway direction, and more. That’s why it sort of needs the Bluetooth app seen up in the entry, at least until some marine instruments learn to display those values:

    • peter says:

      Thank you Ben for information.

      I have noticed PGN 128000 issue already. Also dual-axis STW seems to be a problem for N2K-based MFDs.

  19. Has anyone actually gotten their hands on the UDST? My Airmar DST110 paddlewheel has stopped working again, likely due to junk growing on it, and I would love to know if the UDST actually is something a sailboat should/could use.

    • Keefer Douglas says:

      Seconded! Doesn’t appear to be for sale yet at any of the usual suspects, and Google just returns a link to this article and not much else…

      • The word from Airmar: “​As far as the UDST800, we have been shipping some but they already have a home when we ship them. UDST production is ramping up to a higher level in the next two weeks. ”

        Also, if you have an installer/dealer with a Gemeco account, he or she can probably get one faster than you’ll see them show up in retail channels.

  20. Anyone know if the UDST800 can be mounted inside a fibreglass hull as you could do with many depth sounders? (temperature may be off, but I would expect depth to work… not sure about speed…)

  21. Eliboat says:

    I installed a dx900 in the boat this year. The first one would not transmit depth or temp over the n2k network, but using the app I could see that the transducer was measuring these items, along with leeway, heel, trim etc. Airmar sent a new one to me and everything was transmitted via the network. The problem now is that my speed readings are wildly inaccurate. Yesterday I was tied to a dock on the Piscataqua river and it was reading the current from .8kts up to 5kts. Once underway against the current for the trip home, the Speedo cycled from under a knot to over 9kts. Not only was this clearly wrong, but as my friend who was with me pointed out, had the water speed been changing in that fashion, as quickly as it was, we wouldn’t have been able to stand on the deck without holding on tight to something.
    Not sure what the issue is yet, as I haven’t had a chance to call Airmar.

  22. Tony DoveTony Dove says:

    Re DX900+

    Interesting … ‘do not anti-foul the transponder face’. :facepalm:

    However … this product seems pretty clearly targeted at (and priced accordingly) the ‘serious’ racers. Serious racers lift their boats and clean, even sand, their hulls before every race … so in the racing season … there wouldn’t be much opportunity for the transponder to foul up.

    Anyway … it comes with a nice flappy-valve gizmo to make withdrawing the transponder at sea easy. So just pull it out … replace with the blanking plug … then clean it … after every time you use the boat. There replace it next time you want to use it.

    If you are using the boat continuously, e.g. cruising, just make it a daily ritual to pull, clean, replace.

    So I don’t see the ‘do not anti-foul the transponder face’ edict as much of an issue, really. :thumb:

    The reports of widely variable readings is more of a concern. :banghead: Those same ‘serious’ racers would not take kindly to paying that much for something that is unreliable. The sooner Airmar sort out this issue … the better.

  23. Robert Settle says:

    I’ve been awaiting a report on the UDST that arrived on Gizmo. It’s a revolutionary product if it actually owns up to it’s claims. It’s been a while since the review and the product is shipping and is stocked well. I’m about to pull the trigger on this one. There is a real scarcity of real world info re. this transducer on the web. So far Panbo is the only one that has a report on this. I’m a full time cruising sailor and the idea of not having to think about a paddlewheel -ever again is one that is worth the cost of this transducer. But is it still beta ware?

    • Hi Robert, I’m sorry to report that my UDST testing is still unresolved. The problem I’ve experienced — consistent and proportional high readings — may be due to the transducer but is much more likely the result of the installation.

      When I briefly hauled Gizmo very soon after leaving her winter berth, I noticed that the UDST face was set back about 1/4-inch from flush with the casing’s outer end. The casing is about 20 years old and originally housed a Datamarine sensor, but I believe it to be standard Airmar so I let it go until I started to see apparent high readings in areas where STW should have been very close to SOG. I did fiddle with the UDST’s fixing ring so it would sit deeper in the casing — some wet fun with the boat in the water — but saw no improvement and I have not yet hauled the boat again. (I was planning to about now, but recently decided on another winter afloat partially so that I can continue other testing.)

      What I should have done, and will now, is to ask Airmar for guidance. So thanks for the motivation and sorry to play an old guy who has accumulated far too much stuff to test quickly or efficiently. By the way, the UDST has performed fine in every other way, and I suspect that if I could calibrate it, even simply with a single percent type correction, it would be spot on. And I have lots of logged NMEA 2000 data logs might support that theory, though I have not looked at them yet 😉

  24. Eliboat says:

    Well, I’m still trying to get it working properly. Calibrating the transducer is a bit of a black art, and I was never able to get stAble speed readings. Depth, temperature and heel angle have been fine. I will continue to work with it next season, but if I can’t get it sorted, then I’ll go back to a paddle wheel.

    • Hi Eliboat, I believe from your June comment that you have DX900, not the UDST that Robert Settle just asked about. I’m sure I’m not the only who would like to hear more about your experience when possible, but the two transducers have gotten a little mixed up in this thread though they are very different.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Whoops! My bad. Yes two different technologies.

  26. Keefer Douglas says:

    I tracked down and installed a UDST recently. Boat is still on the hard and will be until Spring, so cannot comment yet on calibration or other issues. However, I noticed that even using the casing provided by Airmar with the new transducer, I too have the same 1/4 inch gap between the face of the transducer and the outer edge of the casing.

    Would prefer not to have to change out the casing again if there is another solution to get it flush (assuming that is indeed the cause of the speed issues noted above)!

    • Thanks so much for speaking up, Keefer, though your experience may indicate that I made a wrong assumption about the transducer fit being the problem. I have already written to Airmar and also found this in the Ultrasonic Processor manual (which was updated since my install):

      “If the speed reading is consistently the same percentage higher
      or lower than the true speed, the speed function within the
      instrument needs to be re-calibrated. Follow the instructions in
      your instrument owner’s manual.”

      I’d rather calibrate the processor itself so that all instruments (and other devices that can use or display STW) would get the same data, but there may well be instruments that can apply a percentage correction that shows on their screens and maybe within their brand network. Maybe someone has a suggestion (and I will try to check out myself). Offhand, I recall that some Simrad, B&G and Furuno displays can apply corrections to some common N2K values.

  27. Cool: Sounds like my UST800 testing issue is simply about calibration and that several options are in the works:

    “Here’s where we are in this product as it pertains to calibration. As you know, our OEM partners have a long integration period to incorporate the products into their system. Once that is done, users will have a quick way to do multipoint calibrations on the UDST and DX products through their on board electronics. In much shorter time than that, we are in the final test stages for a new bit of PC software which will allow for those products and any other Smartsensor to quickly and easily be calibrated. Those calibrations will be stored in the device and will push corrected data to the network/instruments. I’m being told that it will be ready by years’ end. ”

    Note that this applies to the DX transducer too, but also that my Airmar contact joked about how their developers did not specify which “years’ end” 😉

    • Keefer Douglas says:

      So it will be as simple as linking a PC running this software into the N2K network? My new system will have a USB-enabled XB-6000 AIS transponder that I gather ports N2K data to a PC. But will this be capable of routing the signal in the other direction, going from PC to UDST? Or will I need a different sort of link?

      • Sorry, Keefer, but it probably won’t be that easy. The ability of your Vesper Smart AIS to put more data than AIS out over USB and WiFi is great, but it’s limited to common navigation fields because translation is involved. This software will likely require a full-on PC-to-N2K gateway like the Airmar U200, though the Actisense NGT-1 may also work.

        But I’m not sure you should worry about calibration until you try your install. I don’t think that my boat hull or the location of the UDST are weird, but it is one of the first units off the production line, I think.

        • Keefer Douglas says:

          Thanks Ben, much appreciated. Nothing’s ever quite so simple as we might hope it to be, eh? I will post an update re: need for calibration (or lack thereof) once the boat is wet and the system is up and running…

  28. Robert Settle says:

    Thanks Ben and Keefer for your input from real-world use. Hmmm. So even with the provided Airmar housing installed the instrument face is not sitting flush with the hull? I would assume this is a major problem with the ultrasonic sensor. Water flow needs to be across the face and sitting short it would create a burble on the sensor face and create inacuracies I would assume. Unrelated Anecdotal evidence about Airmar from a fellow cruiser here in the Sea of Cortez -he says he has had 2 failures of the dst800 and now keeps a spare “just in case”…
    Regardless I see myself buying the WS300 and the UDST800 and just crossing my fingers. I will haul soon and hope I can “McGuyver” any issues with the installation of the housing and sensor flush with the hull. My current location for my paddlewheel is in front of the keel (Norseman 447) and accessing it from inside requires tossing the forepeak, removing a shelf, two drawers, and a floor panel. My issue with paddlewheels is they go innacurate quite quickly after cleaning. Just a couple days. First is a slime layer quickly followed by hard growth. So they are basically useless unless maintained weekly. Who needs innacurate data? For me it’s unthinkable to toss the forepeak every time I want good speed data which is always. I have a B&G Zeus3 and heading sensor w/4G Radar -good speed data will make the whole system work with their sailing software.

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